The minute a craft brewery is acquired by a large corporation, a few things happen. First, the purchaser shares a “big picture” vision of how this exciting new relationship will bring more resources and subsequent larger reach for the purchased brewery. The second thing said is that “nothing will be changed in regards to your beloved brand.”
When Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits was sold to Constellation Brands, oddly enough, the “nothing will be changed” schpiel was not uttered. Afterall, Ballast Point was in rapid-fire mode to take over the country with their Sculpin products prior to the sale. As a spectator of the evolution of the craft beer industry, it’s been interesting to watch Ballast Point as they have continued on their “world domination.”
Before I dive into the changes I’ve noticed, here is one line from the acquisition press release that people should pay attention to in future acquisitions: “Ballast Point will continue to operate as a stand-alone company with its existing management team and employees running the day-to-day operations.”
Just this past week, Founder Jack White, Chief Commercial Officer Earl Kight III, and COO Yuseff Cherney and CEO Jim Buechler were all announced departures from the company. That’s pretty much the existing C level management team.
- Fruited variants of Sculpin, Dorado and Even Keel flooded the retail market. Places like Target, Walmart and even gas stations have beers that beer drinkers would have never imagined just a few years ago. Some of these beers are damn near alcopops. Watermelon Dorado, I’m looking at you. Grapefruit Sculpin is still tasting fine. We know that Ballast Point is using fruit extracts, for a few reasons. Shelf stability and cost effectiveness. Not just with Ballast Point in particular, but I hope this fad goes away soon. While just a very small piece of sample data, the Pineapple Sculpin, Mango Even Keel and Watermelon Dorado are collecting dust at a few of my local Trader Joe’s. This can’t be making the parent company happy.
- Ballast Point has drastically dropped their price. When BP began canning Sculpin, Grunion, Even Keel, Big Eye and the like, their price points were INSANE. $17 a six pack before tax and CRV was absurd. Over the past 9 months, I’ve seen it go to $15, then $13, then $10.99. I’m starting to catch some places go under the $10 mark. If I was a beer fan who wasn’t concerned with ownership, this would please me to no end. I never thought the $17 six pack was a sustainable price. I also experienced the oldest nastiest Sculpin in the prior two years because many consumers agreed that the $17 price point made it passable for many.
- Related to the drop in price, I am now seeing much fresher inventory. BP is still using the sleezy Julian dating on their boxed, canned six packs, I am noticing beer that’s no more than a month old, in cold cases.
- The evolution of Sculpin IPA. Even prior to the ramp up and subsequent sale, the beer Northstar IPA/Sculpin IPA has evolved. I’m not naive to think that scaling up any beer for wider distribution won’t have any consequences, many once small batch beers have fallen victim to this. With that said, the beer that I held near and dear to my heart is nothing close to what it once was. The beer has a much more faint aroma and taste. Once known for the scaled back malt bill seems malty to me. The old product that we were getting up until recently didn’t help the cause. I now enjoy Grapefruit Sculpin but not regular Sculpin any more and I think that’s due to how cost prohibitive it is the make the once magical beer on the scale they need it to. Oddly enough, the love I had for earlier recipes of Sculpin I now have for Grunion Pale Ale.
- The majority of the pre-acquisition executive management team has parted ways. There is no way of knowing if this was part of BP’s plan all along or part of Constellation’s plan, but in my opinion, Jack, Earl and Yuseff were the bloodlines of that company. Our dear friend James Murray is there, and it will be interesting if he’s next.
- In order for Ballast Point to reach the barrelage of New Belgium, Sierra Nevada or Boston Beer, they will have to lower their price point to Goose Island levels. Under $5.00 bombers and roughly $8.00 six packs here in CA. That six pack price will probably have to go lower in the midwest. This will probably trigger some interesting price wars with Lagunitas and Stone.
- The map of California will be dotted with Ballast Point Brewing destinations. Think Rock Bottom or BJs but with a nautical theme to it. This will be good in some ways, if these destinations have actual brewhouses. It will be a great place for brewers to learn and grow.
- The adjunct/variant cans will fade away. Tried and true Grapefruit Sculpin might stay, as it’s tasty and proves to be a great gateway beer, some of those Jolly Rancher like beers will go bye bye.
- Ballast Point will ramp up their barrel program to compete with not only Firestone Walker but will make a run for that Goose Island BCS market share. They can have the casual fan’s money and the beer geek’s money.
- Ballast Point will maintain their rootsy vibe in San Diego so that Constellation can maintain that local foothold.